Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Night the Stars Came Out

"Fame (fame) puts you there where things are hollow."
~ David Bowie, "Fame"

On March 1, 1975, I was a publicist in the employ of Connie DeNave, a legend of rock 'n' roll PR. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) was a major client and their high-visibility annual event, the Grammy Awards, was a big deal in every way. Preparations involved thousands of actions by dozens of people in different companies — calls made, information acquired and shared, equipment booked, make-up applied, transportation arranged, details double- and triple-checked — all directed into a focused beam of magic that would make Grammy night seem effortless to its hundreds of participants and millions of TV viewers at home.

Now it was close to midnight. The 17th Annual Grammy Awards Show was over, and I was alone in the too-bright basement of New York's Uris Theater, in the room where the bar and snacks had been. I was smoking a cigarette and drinking a tumbler of vodka. I didn't even like vodka, but I hoped it would take the edge off the intense caffeine and adrenaline buzz that I suspected would keep me up all night. As my manic friend Kathy so often said of herself, I was jacked up and wired to the wall.

The night had largely passed by in a blur. Everything I remember about it is wrapped up in this photograph.


Let's start with David Bowie — that's him on the left. In 1975 he was not the Thin White Duke but the skeletal one, the man who fell to earth and became Ziggy Stardust. When I opened a hallway door that night, his wraith-like, spectral self was directly in front of me. His gait was so wobbly people were holding him up on each side. It seemed impossible that he'd make it through the evening, let alone a full life span. But people surprise you, sometimes in a good way. That's something you learn as you grow older.

The second thing I remember is what I like to think of as my A Hard Day's Night moment. John Lennon was a guest presenter. He had played along gamely in an atrociously corny scripted piece with Paul Simon and the Grammy host, Andy Williams. See for yourself in this blurry video.



When the TV appearance and the photo op that followed were over, it was my job to escort John and Yoko through the Uris's underground maze. Our destination was a side exit where their limousine was theoretically idling. But you know that limo wasn't there, not right away. I’m sure it took less than a minute for the car to pull into view but it seemed longer, and by then a high-pitched keening had begun to build up the block. When the car arrived, I dashed across the sidewalk and pulled opened the rear door — and caught sight of the first few fans racing in our direction. Then whoosh, John and Yoko were in the car and gone. For John, it must have seemed like old times.

My third memory is the clearest. It happened where this yarn began, in that too-bright room. At some point I realized I wasn't alone. Paul Simon had wandered in, looking for a drink or a snack…something. He started talking, the words spilling out. He said he’d been divorced recently. His little son, who was three, was with his mother. Now he wondered if she’d let the boy stay up to watch his dad on television. He hoped so. He didn’t think so. But maybe she did. He didn’t know.

It was one of those circular monologues anyone might get into around midnight in a bar with a friend. Except I wasn't a friend, I was a complete stranger. And so, pretty soon he looked at me and said, “Why am I telling you this?” But the reason was obvious: I was the only one there.

As I tossed and turned that night, I thought no more about celebrities, but I did think about my dad.

Oo little sleepy boy
Do you know what time it is
Well the hour of your bedtime's
Long been past
Though I know you're fighting it
I can tell when you rub your eyes
That you're fading fast. 

 — Paul Simon, "St. Judy's Comet"

1 comment: